By Rufiya Ospanova
ASTANA – Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö paid his first state visit to Kazakhstan on April 17 which focused heavily on expanding already growing commercial ties into areas such as green economy and education.
President Niinistö and his delegation discussed plans to expand bilateral relations with government officials. They also participated in a Kazakh-Finnish Forum which explored introducing new green technologies developed in Finland to Kazakhstan.
President Niinistö met President Nursultan Nazarbayev and senior government ministers, National Ombudsman Askar Shakirov and Human Rights Commission Chairman Kuanysh Sultanov during his visit. He was accompanied by Pekka Hallberg, former president of Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court who is involved in a project supporting the rule of law in Central Asia and Economics Minister Jan Vapaavuori and business leaders..
Kazakhstan and Finnish officials and business executives participated in the MINEX Central Asia 2013 forum on April 17-18 in Astana to generate new foreign direct investment (FDI) to the mining industry across Central Asia. Business leaders from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Mongolia participated.
President Nazarbayev told the forum it would explore new directions in bilateral cooperation. “Kazakhstan highly appreciates Finland as a reliable business partner,” he said. He discussed the launching of the Customs Union with Russia and Belarus, the upcoming sixth Astana Economic Forum and the World Anti-Crisis Conference to be held in Astana on May 22-24.
President Nazarbayev also briefed the Finnish visitors on the Green Bridge programme that Kazakhstan presented at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012. “Kazakhstan is actively working on its transition into a green economy. We have all that is needed to achieve this, including a vast territory, favourable geopolitical position and financial and natural resources,” he said.
President Niinistö said Kazakhstan had succeeded in balancing different interests and that it had successfully set long-term strategic goals and combined them with high rates of growth that had laid the foundation for the country’s success in the past 20 years. “I was pleased to learn that Kazakhstan is developing a strategy for the transition to a green economy,” he said. “Finland and Kazakhstan have projects in the water sector and they are developing energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.”
“A third of the 20 documents that were signed at the meeting were devoted to education. They will expand the collaboration and student exchanges between our two countries,” the Finnish president said.
The forum concluded with the adoption of a declaration on cooperation in developing green economy.
“Kazakhstan is a country where economic growth is rapid. This means the wellbeing of its people is growing and its health system and education level are improving. Those are very important factors,” he said.
At a joint press conference, President Nazarbayev thanked the Finnish leader Niinistö for his visit and expressed his appreciation of the growing ties between the two countries.
“Kazakhstan and Finland enjoy traditional friendly relations. Today’s bilateral political dialogue is one of growth and trust,” he said. “Our meeting with the president of Finland has been the third one in 18 months. Since 2010, the Embassy of Kazakhstan has been open in Finland. This is another confirmation of the efforts of our countries to deepen partnership.”
“Despite the negative consequences of the global financial crisis, trade and economic cooperation between our countries has been growing,” President Nazarbayev said. “In 2012, the volume of bilateral trade reached $800 million. This is 700 per cent more that our overall trade volume with the other Scandinavian countries. Today, we discussed the possibility of expanding participation of Finnish businesses in projects to diversify our economy. This will further strengthening relations between our countries.”
President Nazarbayev said cooperation with Finland on green economy issues would also contribute greatly to preparations for EXPO 2017 in Astana on the theme of future and sustainable energy. He said the two countries would also cooperate in new transport, construction and tourism projects. He invited Finnish businessmen to launch joint ventures in the field of food processing.
Nazarbayev also answered questions about Kazakhstan’s upcoming accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and on progress in expanding human rights and reforming the law-enforcement system.
“Accession to the WTO is of an economic nature,” he said. “Our country is strivings to enter the family of civilized nations. Finland has been following the way of democracy for 100 years, while Kazakhstan has been an independent state only for 20 years. We believe we are advancing along this path more rapidly that Finland did.”
“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had to overcome the problems of survival, and did not think of others. Now we can say that Kazakhstan stands in the world as an example of equal rights and the freedom of all its citizens, representing more than 130 ethnic groups,” the president said. “We have 46 religions and we guarantee full religious freedom. We are improving our law-enforcement system. We believe that democracy and freedom, as they are practiced in the West and in Finland, are the final goal for us. We are following this path.”
President Niinistö said that Finland, unlike Kazakhstan, did not have a large number of national minorities. “It is the case that, owing to the financial crisis, Europe is experiencing radical movements including that of the ultra-right. In Finland, the party of so-called ‘true-Finns’ became very popular for a short time,” he said. “Such forces do exist in Europe and they alarm us, making us worry whether the financial crisis will grow into a social crisis and then into the crisis of democracy.”
The two presidents signed agreements to boost cooperation on the green economy, education and science and to pair the cities of Astana and Oulu in Finland.